Stepfamilies are not uncommon. They sometimes work out well, but at other times can be disastrous. Whether Stepfamilies are created after a parental death or divorce, the ingredients for a successful experience are basically the same.
Follow these steps and you are likely to be successful
A golden rule in step-parenting is that it is imperative not to hate your former spouse more than you love your children. Other great tips are as follows:
1) Have compassion for what the stepchildren have gone through. If they do something which may be bothersome, try to let it go.
2) Show care by being concerned, asking questions, and wanting to know about your step-family, while not moving in too close or too fast as to be intrusive.
3) If there are grandchildren, show an interest in them.
4) Remember, you are not the parent.
5) Get counseling as a family from the beginning.
6) Decide on what the stepparent should be called
7) Be empathic to the stepparent who is trying to find a role with his/her stepchildren
Real Stories which Illustrate Implementing These Practices
Sima’s* parents divorced when she was quite young. Several years later, her father married a similarly divorced woman with children. Since the divorce, Sima had become religious and this strained her relationship with her father. Sima’s stepmother encouraged her father to repair the relationship and treated Sima like the daughter she never had. Sima’s mother and stepmother got along very well; there was no jealousy. The stepmother never tried to take Sima’s mother’s place. When Sima called her stepmother “mom”, she responded, “I’m not your mom, but I’d like to try to be like your mom. She’s a wonderful woman.”
A man married a woman who had been widowed for many years. The deceased had an extremely elderly parent, so the new husband cooked for the wife’s former mother-in-law until her death. His stepdaughter said, “He didn’t raise me, but I respect him for what he did and it makes me happy to see that he makes my mother happy.”
Rina married a widower with a large family. The children were quite young at the time of the remarriage. Rina loved the kids as her own and made sure to not erase the memory of the deceased parent. She kept photo albums readily accessible and both she and her husband told stories of the children’s deceased mother. She constantly reassured them that it is not disloyal to love two mothers. Perhaps most special of all, Rina regularly invites her husband’s former in-laws to spend Shabbos with them, always wanting them to feel their status as esteemed grandparents.
Do you or someone you know have experience with a step-family? Please share your thoughts in the comment thread below.